Foreign Language Teaching Tips, Part 3

26 Oct

Feeling intimidated about teaching your kids a foreign language at home?  In this 3-part series, I offer you ideas on how to make language learning fun and effective, even if you’re not fluent yourself.

8.  Find a community of people to speak with.

Really learning a language requires using it.  Are there native speakers of your TL in your area? Find ways to be around them, whether it’s volunteering for work with Latinos, frequenting a Mediterranean restaurant, or joining the monthly meet-up of French expats in your city.  If there aren’t any, or you’re shy about striking up friendships in these ways, create a meet-up of your own with other people who want to learn the same language or participate in language exchanges with people in other countries that take place over Skype.

9.  Have them read stuff they’re interested in in the target language–even if it’s way over both your heads.

I can still remember curling up in the afternoons with a crisp copy of Alo!  magazine and taking in all the latest gossip about the Spanish novela actors.  Did I know what they were saying? Ha!  Was I pronouncing anything correctly?  Oh, to have been a fly on the wall then and gotten some cheap laughs!  But it made me curious.  It made me look up words.  It made me wonder who those people were (for better or worse).  It could have been something else, like astronomy, or a novel, or fashion.  But there’s something about learning a new word in the context of text that interests you that really makes it stick.  And something about reading it in a real-live product of that culture that makes it more exciting than translating the words in a text book.

10.  Try to teach things they care about saying first.

Again, the best way to get someone to remember words is to get them to use them in social situations.  They can only do that if they have a use for them in social situations.  That’s why I think it’s important to teach people how to say things about themselves and what they think very quickly.  They don’t need to know all the sports right away, just the ones they play.  They need to know how to to say “I like” and “I am” right off the bat.  They need not just to be able to tell that they’re in sixth grade and have blonde hair, but that they love reggae music and are extremely loyal.  It may not be possible to cover all that in a first lesson, but those are the words that should be sought out first.

11.  Use music copiously.

Find music in your TL that suits your style: pop, rock, folksy or something traditional from that culture.  If you don’t want to invest in CDs, load up a playlist of videos on Youtube to listen to throughout the day or invest in songs one by one using iTunes.  Choose ones that really speak to you and stick in your head.  Then get the lyrics from the Internet with their translation.  You’ll be amazed how much more you remember the words and practice the right pronunciation when it’s carried on music.  And when you learn the meaning of those words in a specific context such as an impassioned ballad or catchy dance number, you’ll recall the meanings of words for years to come–and even where you first learned a word.  You may come across grammar constructions you don’t understand yet, and that’s okay.  You’ll take stock of it for later when it will come in handy, or you may be inspired to go figure out why they conjugated a verb a certain way in a song.


One Response to “Foreign Language Teaching Tips, Part 3”

  1. July 10, 2012 at 2:31 pm #

    “Try to teach things they care about first”……this is SO IMPORTANT in learning anything, especially a foreign language. Great point!!! Nice post! (

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